Alaska’s statewide salmon catch is 31 percent below expectations and is unlikely to reach the preseason forecast of 147 million fish.
The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game (ADF&G) said, as expected, the shortfall stems from poor pink salmon returns to Gulf of Alaska regions. The forecast called for a 70 million pink catch; so far it is under 38 million.
Managers knew there would be a problem with pinks because the returning fish were the offspring of those that spawned in 2016, a year when there was a federal disaster declaration for Alaska pinks in several regions.
In its late August wrap up, Fish and Game said catches for all salmon but sockeye are way off the mark.
Unexpected run timing for reds at major regions also caused uncertainty for managers and lost harvest opportunities for fishermen.
Bristol Bay’s Kvichak River saw the latest peak since 1956; on the Kenai River, over half of the late-run sockeye returned during the month of August for only the second time ever, and Copper River sockeyes returned in three distinct pulses with the third occurring in mid-July.
Managers are unsure why much of the salmon fishery flopped. Most blame the warm water blob that began in 2013 throughout the North Pacific that likely affected food availability – the same reason cited for the Gulf of Alaska cod crash.
The 2018 salmon season has not been without bright spots, notably at Bristol Bay which had the second largest sockeye salmon catch on record at nearly 42 million fish, and the fourth year in a row with the harvest topping 35 million.
Norton Sound also is likely to top last year’s record coho salmon catch and at Kotzebue, the chum harvest will be among the top four ever.
Fishery managers said it is important to maintain perspective on historical salmon harvests, noting that the three largest Alaska salmon catches on record occurred between 2013 and 2017.
Alaska’s total salmon catch so far is at 105 million fish.
For sockeyes a 2018 harvest of 52 million was projected; the statewide take is closer to 50 million.
For chums, the catch has topped 15 million out of a 21 million forecast. Last year’s record haul of 25 million chums was the biggest in 47 years.
The 2018 coho catch is at 2.2 million out of a forecast closer to six million silvers.
Preliminary statewide total harvests and exvessel (dockside)values by salmon species and area will be available by mid-October.